Best Of :: Food & Drink
There are two kinds of pho-lovers in this world: those who choose beef, and those who prefer chicken. Everyone in Little Saigon knows the best beef pho comes from Pho Thanh Lich (last year's Final Pho winner, as well as Best Pho title holder two years in a row here), and the best chicken pho comes from Pho Dakao (the winner in 2009), so which of the two wins in a face-off? It's like splitting the 1992 USA Basketball Dream team into squads led by Michael Jordan and Magic Johnson, but we'll go with the Earvin of the two this year in the form of Pho Dakao. The key factor is freshness: the chickens are sourced locally from its sister poultry shop Dakao Poultry in Midway City. The use of just-killed hen elevates the soup, as its springy meat, chewy tripe (if you so choose) and unformed eggs shine bright with flavor, while the schmaltz transforms the broth into butter. Throw in a jungle of herbs, squeeze in a lot of lime, and Pho Dakao's chicken pho makes those childhood bowls of Campbell's seem as comforting as a ruler across your palms.
Kareem's is one of the oldest Middle Eastern restaurants in Anaheim's Little Arabia, and it's legendary for its falafels: emerald-green and poofy on the inside, dark-brown and crunchy on the outside. But while a falafel plate is fine, the better option is the pita sandwich, with the falafels lined up in a row, accentuated by the sharpness of tahini sauce, freshened by the red onions and fresh tomatoes within, all kept orderly by warmed bread. It might not seem like much and is pretty straightforward, but wash it down with a Vimto, and Anaheim returns to its rightful spot as the Happiest Place on Earth.
It's been screamed from the corner booths, the mountaintops and even these very pages, so it bears repeating: Nick's Pizza (not to be confused with worthy contender Nick's Pizza D'Oro) serves the best pizza in Orange County. Zip it with that it's-not-real-pizza-unless-it's-thin-crust-like-in-New-Yawk crap: The kitchen will deliver a thin crust at Nick's if you ask, but why the hell would you when the normal crust is similar to a piece of the best hot, fresh bread you'll eat all week? Crunchy on the outside, perfectly chewy on the inside, the pizza dough joins all the other ingredients (hell, all the other entrées) in being perfectly prepared from the best ingredients around, including fresh mozzarella and a sweet, never-burnt homemade tomato sauce. Topping choices, which adhere to the same taste and freshness standards, include all the favorites, from olives, mushrooms and eggplant to sausages, pepperoni and meatballs. The pies cost more than, say, Pizza Hut's, but you pay for quality, tightwad.
Having a bagel boiled is the best way to make it delicious—otherwise, it's just bread with a hole in it. East Coast Bagels does it right, offering flavors such as pizza, cheese jalapeño, plain, everything, cheese and onion, garlic—all of them chewy yet soft, toasted and yeasty, and concentrated in its particular flavor. Add a multitude of sandwiches that arises from said bagels, great coffee and a crowd that looks straight out of pre-gentrification Brooklyn, and it's as close to a New York bagel heaven as you can find in this goyim county of ours.
Inside Mitsuwa Market food court are eaters bouncing from stall to stall, depending on whether they want ramen or udon for the day, Japanese-style Chinese food or even Hawaiian grub. But the only option that is more than a one-trick pony is this humble spot, easily identifiable by its plastic food displays behind a glass counter. Miyabi-Tei's pork-cutlet curry offers an ocean of the murky, sweet sauce and a crunchy cutlet for 7 bucks; a combo with cold soba noodles goes for $9. The most expensive thing is the bento special, which varies from day to day yet never costs more than $15. While other Japanese restaurants in OC are fancier or more studied in their approach, Miyabi-Tei is Japanese at its finest: fast, furious, shared among masses and cheap as hell.
Pita is now so common to the American palate we assume the entirety of the Middle East eats it, but each country in the region has its own bread traditions—and the best of the bunch is the khubz popular to Iraq. It's similar to pita bread except fluffier and the diameter of a basketball hoop, and it's made fresh every day at Al Tannour, the county's first Iraqi restaurant. Get it with any order, or take some home.